Organizing to raise wages

Have you ever met a fast food worker who works full time and still can’t make rent? What about a teacher who took a second job because she hasn’t gotten a raise in ten years? A construction worker who has had to move back in with his parents, because infrastructure jobs have dried up? Or a home care worker who has spent 40 years on the job, but still only makes minimum wage?

Across the country, hardworking Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Productivity has gone up, but wages have flat-lined. And those at the top keep stacking the deck more and more in their favor.

Getting incomes rising and creating more good-paying jobs for hardworking Americans is the central economic challenge of our time — and it will be my mission as president. We have to build on the progress we’ve made under President Obama and make our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top. Trying to start all over with a whole new system is a recipe for gridlock—not action. The people I’ve met can’t wait for that. They can’t wait any longer for higher wages and better jobs. So we need to roll up our sleeves and start making a difference in people’s lives right now.

The American labor movement knows how to get it done: by organizing. We see it all the time — when working people join together and bargain collectively, wages go up and families are better off.

In October, I joined hundreds of culinary workers in a protest outside of Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. The hotel workers — many of them immigrants, most of them underpaid — were rallying to join a union, after being blocked by management time and again. Just a few months later, the workers voted ‘yes’ to join the Culinary Workers and UNITE HERE. Now, they are fighting for a fair contract with better wages.

Once working people organize, they can see real gains at the bargaining table. Last year, for instance, the United Auto Workers won raises for their workers at Ford, GM and FCA (Chrysler) plants. According to a recent report from the AFL-CIO, the wage increases ranged from 3 percent to as much as 45 percent, as the plants move away from two-tier systems that can penalize new workers.

Union membership comes with a wage increase of more than 13 percent — and those bargaining table bumps can be good for entire communities. When union members win a raise, they’re more likely to be able to go see a movie at the local theater or grab a bite to eat at the neighborhood diner, even buy a new car or house. That consumer spending helps drive our economy. And as union membership has declined, non-union workers have been hurt, too — because their employers no longer feel pressured to raise salaries to the standard set by collective bargaining.

That’s why I’m alarmed by escalating attacks across our country on workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. Twenty-five states are now so-called “right-to-work” states. In many places, state legislatures are moving to undermine prevailing wage standards and project labor agreements, and employers are misclassifying workers to get away with paying lower wages. And this year, the Supreme Court will decide Friedrichs v California Teachers Association that could make it harder for working people to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.

We should be making it easier for working people to organize and negotiate, not harder. In the Senate, I was proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would enable working people to freely form, join, or assist labor organizations. As president, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with unions to fend off any attacks and help build a labor movement for the 21st century.

We also need to keep pushing for gains beyond the bargaining table as well.

As president, I will work to raise the federal minimum wage back to the highest level it’s ever been — $12 an hour in today’s dollars — and support state and local efforts to go even further. Across the country, thousands of low-income workers, with the support of SEIU and others, have come together to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union. I strongly support those efforts.

I also support the expanded overtime protections announced by President Obama last year, which could raise wages for as many as 5 million working people. We need to defend those new rules from Republican attacks.

All over America, hardworking people are joining together to “fight for a better life,” as the AFL-CIO says. This will be my fight, too. If you stand with me, I’ll always stand with you. When unions are strong, families are strong — and when families are strong, America is strong.